The following is the full transcript from The Daily’s interview
with Little Brother, a discussion that took place a few weeks
The Michigan Daily: How did you guys hook up?
Phonte: We all met at North Carolina Central University and the
night that we recorded “Speed,” that was August of 2001. It was
just going to be a song that me and Pooh were gonna rhyme over, and
so we did it and afterwards, we kept listening to it and we liked
the chemistry, so was the night when we decided that we would try
to make things happen as a group.
TMD: I have friends around here who have heard some stuff by
Little Brother but haven’t heard The Listening, or they’ve just
heard some Justus League stuff. What are you guys doing to get your
name out there aside from putting The Listening in as many stores
Big Pooh: We’re doing shows, man, lots of live shows and meeting
people, man. When you can hear a band and see them in person –
that’s real and it will help separate us, once everyone sees us
perform. We’re just doing dates here and there right now,
TMD: Are you guys doing a formal tour, or are you just doing
stuff out in Durham right now?
BP: Yeah, it’s like dates here and there. We were out in
California, but that was only a few spots. Just little stuff like
P: Yeah, we’re just hitting certain cities and states right now.
We go to Virginia Tech in a few weeks. Just little dates like that,
spot dates. We might also go abroad. There won’t be a full out tour
until this summer when we’ll be out for like a month straight.
Aside from that, it’s like what Pooh said, just trying to stay
in contact with people, making connections, responding to emails in
my inbox, you know? It’s important to acknowledge the fans. That’s
what we’re all about.
TMD: One of my favorite songs on The Listening was “So Fabulous”
and that seems directly reminiscent of De La Soul, like an homage
to them. Do you like it when people compare you to De La Soul, when
they say that 9th’s beats sound like Pete Rock? Does it become
9th Wonder: No, it’s not tiresome at all. We’d rather be
compared to those cats — De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest — all day
because we really don’t want to be compared to new jacks. It
doesn’t bother us; it’s a compliment. If you’re playing ball, you’d
rather be compared to Mike Jordan than Sedale Threatt. You want to
be compared to the great ones. So it’s not a problem at all. And
also, when the great ones are hearing your music and saying back,
“Hey man, I like what you’re doing, keep it up,” that’s definitely
TMD: So 9th, how do you make your layered beats, which are
sample heavy? Do you just sit around listening for catching stuff
or, as you were growing up, did you ever say to yourself ‘This
would be a great hook, this would be a great sample.” How do you go
through the process of making beats?
9th: At first, when I began making beats, I basically didn’t
know what I was doing, so I’d hear a sample, throw drums on it, and
that was it. Now, I have my own type of sound, which is derived
from a lot of others, and I do a lot of stuff that other cats
don’t. I just start on one phrase, one piece of a sample, and just
build on that.
Sometimes you have your good days and sometimes you have your
bad ones, but if you just keep at it, keep pushin’ it – get a hot
beat and hot lyrics — you’ll be alright. That’s a big piece of the
Little Brother story. Hit here, miss there, just keep working.
That happens a lot with us and since we first met, when Phonte
was maybe a little ahead of us in terms of my beats or Pooh’s
rhymes, we’ve been working at it and things have worked out since.
With the beats, rhymes, everything, you’ve just gotta take one
piece and then build on it.
TMD: So then Phonte, Pooh, how do you guys go about writing once
9th gets you a hot beat? I ask, in part, because one of the
distinguishing characteristics of The Listening is that you guys
seem to work really well together on the mic.
P: It all starts with the track, and Pooh and I will sit down
with it and come up with a concept or whatever. Most of the time, I
come up with a lot of the hooks, so I might get one in my head and
then we’ll write around that. It’s like writing a paper: The hook
is the thesis statement, and you then build around your thesis. A
of times, we’ll come at it like that, and the important thing is
that we make sure we have something to say; we make sure we ain’t
putting words together just for the sake of rhyming. It doesn’t
have to have a message, but people need to know more about Phonte
and Pooh each time after hearing us on the mic. We think that’s
really important, not just to rap, but to really put your
personality in your music because that is what draws listeners
close to you.
Sometimes, Pooh might write and verse, and I’ll write a verse,
and we’ll mix and match them. He’ll spit some of my lines, I’ll
spit some of his-
BP: Sometimes, we’ll just play around with it.
TMD: Rolling Stone gave The Listening two stars and said that
you guys weren’t saying anything on your album, but that seems
dubious, so who is your target audience?
BP: Everyone who listens. We didn’t set out looking for a
certain group. Like, “We just want these people to listen to it. If
these people listen to it, that’s cool.” Nah, we just do it for
everyone who listens. There’s something for everybody.
P: However, when Pooh says that there’s something for everybody,
it’s not like we said, “Let’s get the Neptunes to do one club joint
and Timbaland to do another.” Unlike most rap albums now, where
there’s 16 or 17 songs with no focus, having done something for
every crowd, we don’t try to appeal to everybody and then wind up
appealing to nobody. We just wanted to stay true to our sound and
make a regular record using our early-’90s throwback sound.
But at the same time, we weren’t gonna say, “This is only for
the underground.” Nah, we don’t just want the backpack crowd, we’re
trying to get to the cats listening to Fabolous too. A lot of cats
who listen to that music, the more mainstream stuff, they’re
listening to our music and liking a lot of that as well. I remember
talking to a guy who worked at one of the stores carrying our
record, and he told me, “Man, y’all CD is selling. The only things
that’re really keeping our doors open are your CD and 50 Cent.
Those are the two CDs I just can’t keep in the store,” and I was
like, “Are people buying both at the same time?” and he was like
So that’s our focus. We make music for everybody. We want to
take it back to when rap was just rap and it wasn’t so polarized –
underground versus commercial. It’s all good music. If you’re dope,
you’re dope, and if you’re not, you’re not. That’s the bottom line.
There’s a lot of bullshit in the underground, and there’s a lot of
dope shit in the commercial that’s getting spins, too. We just want
to blur those lines and bring people together.
TMD: Is it fair to say, though, that probably people that are
wearing Birkenstocks and capris aren’t gonna want to buy the record
after hearing “The Yo-Yo?” That’s the one group I could see not
wanting to buy The Listening.
P: (Laughing) Yeah, I don’t know if they wouldn’t want to buy
it. I mean, if they don’t, then hey, I ain’t losing no sleep over
it, but I think that I wrote that verse because there was something
that I just wanted to get off my chest. I was not a big fan of the
whole coffeehouse, neo-soul shit. I just think a lot of it is
really elitist, really pretentious, and the way of thought is just
so, “We are better than you because we listen to this kind of music
and drink fucking wheat grass juice and all this shit.” I’m like,
man, fuck you, you’re trying to do the same thing as me – rock a
show, meet a girl, and then go fuck after the show. (Laughing) It’s
all the same, bro. Call it what you want to call it, but nigga,
don’t fool yourself. At the end of the night, you’re trying to do
the same thing as me.
Those capri-wearing cats, I think that there’s a lot of stuff on
The Listening that they’ll like, and if anything, I hope that they
would listen to that verse and take a look at themselves, and just
be like, “Damn, this motherfucker’s talkin’ about me.” But so no, I
don’t got a problem with it.
TMD: Pooh, when I listen to The Listening, your voice sounds
like the anchor for the tracks – steady, heavy. How did you develop
BP: I don’t know. It’s kind of weird because one of the people
that I listened to that really got me wanting to rap was Nas. I
listened to Illmatic a lot, and my voice is nothing like his. But
you know, it’s just my voice, man, it’s my vocal tone so I
developed it over the years. I kept writing, kept going at it, and
I had confidence in myself, but back when I first started, I –
that’s just the way it is. I didn’t set out saying “I’m gonna be
the anchor of every Little Brother track; I’m gonna have the heavy
voice.” Nah, that’s just my style.
I’m more edgy, more street, more blatant in my rhymes. (Phonte),
he uses more metaphors, or clever rap, or however you want to
describe it, but I’m the total opposite. I just come to get you, I
choke you. I don’t try to hide and then creep up on you when you
sleep. I smack you while you’re staring. That’s just how it is,
TMD: I got a question for 9th now about (the remix album he
produced), God’s Stepson. How did you decide to do that, and did
Nas have any input on that at all? Also, let me just say that it’s
hot; its definitely better than God’s Son.
9th: Thanks man, I’m glad you think so. Really, a lot of times,
the way I test beats is that I throw acapellas over them. I started
doing that a long time ago, and it got to a point where I started
collecting remixes, and some of them I recorded, and you know, I
might let Phonte hear a remix that I’ve done.
So maybe a couple of years back, he said he liked one remix, and
one remix turned into five, which would turn into 10 remixes, which
would turn into 20, which turned into – ok, you got to save these
for remix (albums).
So my man Bum Rush, one Saturday, brought the acapellas to Nas’
God’s Son by the house and was like, “Man, I want you to remix this
joint.” So, I started just going around with it, and my first
intention, to tell you the truth, when I first finished it, was to
mail it to a few of my friends. I had a couple of cats’ addresses,
so I was going to send it to them and see what they thought to get
an urban legend (buzz) going, because I think that’s something
that’s really missing in hip-hop. If stay in some city and there’s
a cat across town who’s got a remix that no one else got, you’ll
break you neck to get it, right? So this was the same thing. I
mailed it to one cat in Seattle, one cat in LA, one cat in Atlanta,
and I just give it to them for free so that they start talking,
like “I got this God’s Son remix.”
“So how’d you get it?”
“9th mailed it to me on a whim, I didn’t even know it was
coming.” That’s what hip-hop’s all about. That’s what I
intentionally did it for: for my personal enjoyment, for the cats
on my team to check out. As soon as I finished it, Big Pooh was
like, “Yo I need a copy, get me a copy quick.” Then,
hiphopsite(.com) found out that I did it, and they said they wanted
it and I was like, “Alright.” So, it went from me doing it on a
whim to now everyone having it. I found out that on Sunday, on
“Future Flavas,” Evil Dee spun the whole record. That’s crazy, and
that’s what it’s all about. So you know, it’s like the same thing
that happened with The Listening. Something so small can blow up
into something so big in front of your very eyes and you don’t know
how it happened. It’s the same thing with this God’s Son thing:
It’s something I just did out of my crib on a whim, and now
everybody has a copy of it. It’s even gotten to the point where
it’s being illegally bootlegged if you can say that. (Laughing)
It’s like, even the bootlegs are getting bootlegged.
TMD: Yeah, so you and Jay-Z can hang out. Switching topics, I
saw that you guys had a feature on the OkayPlayer website. Have you
hooked up with ?uestlove in any other capacity?
P: Well, we chilled with him for a little while in San
Francisco, we did a show with them at the Fillmore. He was even
gracious enough to introduce us before we went on. It was crazy, to
have the headliner come out and introduce the group opening for
them. It showed great humility for him to do that. He’s a real cool
As far as music, or him doing some joints, or hooking up any
more, I really don’t know. There may be some more dates down the
road where we do some shows with them, but other than that, it’s
hard to say. They’re doing their thing and we’re trying to get the
ball rolling with our stuff. Him and that whole crew are some
really great cats, though. They’re really generous, and we can’t
thank them enough for the support that they’ve given us.
TMD: So what is going to officially be next for LB and (your
crew) the Justus League? Are you going back to the studio to put
out more stuff?
P: Yeah, well the studio, that’s kind of always going, there’s
always somebody recording. As far as another straight Little
Brother album, that probably won’t happen for another year.
BP: A Voodoo album.
P: (Chuckling) Hell yeah, we’re gonna be the D’Angelo of the
underground and shit, putting out a new album every four years and
shit. Nah, I expect another Little Brother won’t happen until late
2004. But also, we’re all recording and working on stuff, members
of the League are working on stuff. Right now, we’re just trying to
put other members of the League out; we’re trying to set up a
platform for them. We want to create our own channels to get music
out, and that’s it, man. Little Brother, we’re just gonna keep
doing shows to promote The Listening.
TMD: North Carolina Central didn’t make the NCAA Tournament, but
you guys are from Durham. Are you picking Duke to do well in the
BP: I have Maryland all the way, baby!
P: I’m a Duke fan, man, and I’m a realist too, so I really don’t
think that they’re gonna go too far or win the whole thing.
TMD: Is Durham a good scene for hip-hop?
P: I’m slowly finding out that Durham is like any other city as
far as the type of hip-hop we listen to – anything pre-’95 or
sounding closely to that. You’re always gonna have maybe your
handful of cats who get up at every venue, and they’re always
outnumbered by the majority-radio heads. And that’s every city that
I’ve seen. It’s everywhere, and I thought it was just in North
Carolina, with the exception of big cities like LA and New York.
But, it’s in Fresno, it’s in every city – they’re always a handful
of cats. You know, you got a lot of cats saying “50 Cent, 50 Cent,”
and I love the album, no doubt, but you know, you got your Fabolous
cats. Then, there’s a handful of cats that are like, “Yo, you got
that new Spinna album?” You know what I’m saying? It’s the same
thing everywhere man. Durham is basically the same as everything
TMD: Are you guys going to keep living in Durham? Will you be
moving to LA to be closer (to your record label) ABB?
P: Man, come on, shoot me in the fuckin’ head. It’s not gonna
happen. For as long as I can, I plan to stay down here, man. We’re
still able to get out and do what we need to do, we’re able to do
shows, any studio work we need to do. As long as there’re planes in
the world, Bruh, I plan on staying in North Carolina.
BP: North Carolina, this is what makes us. This is our music.
It’s where we’re at, what we do, how we do it, and if we were
anywhere else, we’d change. It would put a different spin on our
music, and I don’t think any of us are ready for that, yet.
P: It’s like Outkast leaving Atlanta, Bruh. Why would Outkast go
to New York to record their album? It really would make no sense. I
ain’t got no plans to leave North Carolina. The cost of living is
good, the temperature’s pretty nice, the weather is fairly
moderate. It’s really nice down here. It’s easy living, you can
raise kids and shit. I’m not fuckin’ with LA, Bruh. I will say that
I could do New York before I do LA. New York is just a straight,
in-your-face city. It’s fast, it’s cold, it’s hard. LA is just, I
don’t know, LA is like some kind of fucking dream world, man. That
shit is – I don’t know, man, that shit is like the Twilight
TMD: You can take the guys out of Durham, but you can’t take
Durham out of the guys. So, you’ve been compared to De La Soul, but
have you ever had the chance to work with them or meet them?
P: Not yet. One of the producers, Kevin Brown, who produced a
few tracks on (De La’s) Bionix joint, he lives in Maryland, so he
and I hooked up for a joint and he was like, “I need to get you in
touch with Maseo.” I guess that one of those cats, Maseo or Dave,
lives in Maryland now, so we’re gonna try to make that connection,
but it hasn’t happened yet.
When we were in LA, we met Mike G from the Jungle Brothers, and
he’s actually moving to North Carolina pretty soon, so that’s a
connect right there for us. It’s just funny to know that you can be
kickin’ it with the cats that you grew up listening to. I mean,
Done by the Forces of Nature came out when I was nine, and it’s
cool to think that 10 or 15 years later, I’m kickin’ it with the
guy who wrote that album.
TMD: So aside from De La and the Jungle Brothers, who else, and
perhaps more contemporarily, who else would you want to work with
BP: I think one of the most underrated producers around is DJ
Quik, so definitely him.
P: For me, Quik, he’s a favorite of mine. Also, Spinna, I really
want to work with him on stuff. Primo of course. Pretty much the
usual suspects. As far as MCs, I gotta go with Ghostface, Mos and
Kweli, you know? I’m still fans of them.
TMD: So then, did you love that Kweli-Quik collaboration on
P: I didn’t really like that, nah, I didn’t like that. I thought
it was just like-
TMD: I didn’t think that the beat matched Kweli’s rhyming
P: Exactly, it’s like, you know, two good things that didn’t go
TMD: Like orange juice and milk.
P: Yeah. Orange juice is good by itself; milk is great by
itself. When you put them together, though, you get a damn mess.
But yeah, and outside of hip-hop, I like Fort Hero, Casanova – I
listen to a lot of weird shit.
TMD: What’s the best track on The Listening, what’s your
favorite track on The Listening, and is there a difference?
9th: From a mixing standpoint, the best song in terms of sound
and clarity is probably “Nighttime Maneuvers.” It has a great
sound. When I finished mixing the joint, the guys came back, and
Phonte said, “Man, ‘Nighttime Maneuvers’ sounds real, real good
just coming out of the speakers.” That’s probably the best track,
in terms of mixing, sound, and all around stuff. My favorite track
is “Shorty on the Lookout.” That’s my favorite.
BP: The best track, I think, is “Shorty on the Lookout.” The way
everything came together and the way it works, I thought that was
the best track on the album. My favorite track on the album – this
month – is probably “Nobody but You.”
P: The best joint, just all around, would probably be “Shorty,”
and more so, there’s just a lot of depth to it. There’re ad-libs
and all kinds of shit buried in it. It’s a real active song. That’s
just the best production. If I was in a production class and I had
to submit something, that would be it. As far as my favorite track,
I would say it is “The Way You Do It.” Man, when we recorded that,
I was like, “Yeah, this is the shit right here.”
TMD: My favorite is “The Listening,” but that might be because
of the horn sample. My last question is why didn’t “Altitudes” make
P: Yeah, it was done after the album was finished. We wrapped up
The Listening on March15, 2002, and then we started recording more
shit after that, and “Altitudes” was done in April or May.
A lot of people ask us why certain tracks weren’t on it, but
it’s because the album’s been done for a minute and there was no
reason to add bonus tracks, or hidden tracks, of shit to put in
your DVD player, or whatever. We didn’t want to make a box set.
TMD: Like (Cody ChesnuTT’s) The Headphone Masterpiece. Have you
heard that? Jesus, it’s like a marathon. I like it, but it’s
P: I’ve heard of it, yeah. I haven’t copped it yet, but we’ll
TMD: Alright guys, thanks a lot and good luck with